The Virtual and the Actual of Embodiment
Or art as Interface for the real
Do you remember this game kids play? One hand is put flat on a glass window while someone else does the same at the other side. Two hands touching, electrifying each other by sight, without physical sensors, just by positioning the hands in relation to each other. Touching without skin, touching in imagination, moved by the twinkle in the eye of the other. Something like this it must have been, lying down on Paul Sermon’s bed. Telematic Dreaming, it invites you to play, it invites your curiosity, asks you to reconsider your presence, intimacy, and body.
Although usually interactive and telematic art is not focused on aesthetics and form but rather on choice, action, and relation (Shanken, Ascott, Krueger), Telematic Dreaming can be considered a visually rich piece once taken place inside. Telematic Dreaming is an installation that exists of two separate locations that are connected through a digital telephone network. On each location, a double bed functions as an interface for video-conferencing systems. One of the locations is blacked out, and the other is illuminated. Sermon’s explains it as follows:
The bed in the light location has a camera situated directly above it, sending a live video image of the bed, and a person (“A”) lying on it, to a video projector located above the other bed in the blacked out location. The live video image is projected down on to the bed with another person (“B”) on it. A second camera, next to the video projector, sends a live video image of the projection of person “A” with person “B” back to a series of monitors that surround the bed and person “A” in the illuminated location. The telepresent image functions like a mirror that reflects one person within another person’s reflection. (Sermon 1992)
Telematic Dreaming uses the ambiguous connotations of the bed as the stage or screen of action and interaction. At first glance, it might feel somewhat innocent to take place on the bed since there is not ‘really’ another person there. Yet, once the interaction with the projected partner starts, the participant might be surprised. Suzan Kozel, a dancer and theorist who performed in the installation for two weeks puts it this way:
When the movement progressed from these early stages to a sort of full-body choreography, the piece became an emotional investment that chocked and sometimes disturbed people. Some people simply froze, and fled the installation once they realized what was happening’ (Kozel 1994: 94).
This emotional reaction turned out not to be an exception and proves that telepresence might arouse stronger emotions than expected at first glance.
Every performance installation deserves a Kozel: with her article Spacemaking: virtuality and materiality she provides us with a remarkable entrance to Sermon’s piece from the perspective of the experienced insider. The scholar/dancer Kozel made even notes about her thoughts and feelings –just outside the frame of the camera—while she was performing. Kozel calls her time in the installation a ‘dwelling’. While she argues that the piece is proving for her the notion ‘that basic human qualities such as touch, trust, vulnerability, pain, and embodiment, are not lost when people engage with each other through technologies’ (Kozel 2008: 88). I think the argument Kozel makes here, is interesting and valuable, but I also think she might have gone one step further by questioning if the mediated technology is even enhancing a greater sense of ‘touch, trust, and vulnerability’ by downplaying the real in favor for the assumed ‘virtual’.
The how, what, and why
Hayles argues that we are ‘lulled into insomnia by 1000 years of print’ but that recent technological developments enable us to re-new our perspective on data and information. New tools, new means of production, and new subjects emerged. Where traditionally art functioned as a safe haven of representation where one could experiment with concepts, worldviews, emotions, and experiences, with the rise of modern forms of art—that make use of new media tools such as photography, video, telecommunication devices, and performances— the relation between the artist, the viewer, the work of art and society has changed (Ascott, Krueger). Due to the easy access of cheap telecommunication tools and quick broadband Internet connections, a higher level of immersion, direct involvement of the spectator, is changing the nature of the arts. In addition, a trend started by Marcel Duchamp around 60 years ago with his so-called ready-mades, art and non-art start to share characteristics and ‘the object’ as art piece lost its central role: life and art were drawn closer together, forming new relationships and dependencies.
In this paper, I want to show how the relation between social characteristics and artistic developments can be characterized by analyzing the piece Telematic Dreaming and relate it to a more general observation about visuality and virtuality. The concept of explaining society through its art is based on the body of though of Heinrich Kittler who elaborated on the relation between society and culture:
The data processing of a given society can be reconstructed by analysing its artistic media. Being less formal that its systems of knowledge, those media display and propagate the elementary regulations that culturalise the natives of that society.” (Kittler 1986: 159)
Within our modern society, the virtual is brought into our daily lives and new technologies are bringing us new relations concerning embodiment and reality. These new media are enabling new tools and purposes for old practices. A higher level of immersion and involvement of the spectator is changing the nature of the event and the work of art. Not only the distinction between the actual and the virtual—the representation and the object—starts to blur, but also the differentiation between the work of art and the spectator is harder to define.
The virtual is elaborated on by philosophers and theorist like Gilles Deleuze, Brian Massumi, and Jonathan Steuer who compare it to the real, the actual, the possible, in becoming and being. Rob Shields is a theorist who explicitly relates the virtual to the actual and to daily life. Yet, especially in the arts, the border between the real, the virtual, and the actual is in need of re-definition because of the new kind of virtualities that emerge based on new technologies and techniques that are rooted firmly in the dailyness of our lives. Matthew Fuller articulated in his book New Media Ecologies these change in artistic tools as follows.
1. A current of work, which has not stopped, began to develop both outside of galleries, dealerships, and salesrooms, and in a non-unilateral relationship with such structures.
2. Lived practices (performances, events, happenings, behaviors, sociabilities, communicational acts) supplanted fixed objects as the primary instance of the work)
3. Artwork developed that was rooted in the ‘post-retinal’, which was ‘conceptual’ ‘idea art’ distinct from previous currents that were seen to be decorative.
4. Materials that were seen to be peripheral to art systems, such as documentation, press releases, and announcements, became its primary means;
5. Art systems were abandoned as sites for production, but were understood and used as the site of political conflicts.
6. Communications systems, such as postal art, video, radio, magazines, books, became the often mass-producible locus of work.
7. Work began to deal directly with the historification processes of art systems;
8. Art methodologies were explicitly tied into the activity of political, cultural, and social movements, which were understood as being non-art;
9. The languages used to describe art, the political, psychological, analytical, became subject to programmatic use by artists;
10. Other non-art categories such as music, destruction, food, nonhuman, ‘cultural’ practices, information, domestic work, and so on were mobilized ‘as art’ or as gateways to a relationship with other forms of life.
As is clear in this list, real life elements and art become increasingly entwined. Therefore, art becomes a good place to investigate the relation we have with these technologies that influence our lives on several levels like the working place, the privacy of the home, or in communication. This paper surveys to what extent art can function as a close-reading of the technological effects we experience today and how this might influence our behavior and our society in the future.
Outline and method
Besides Kittler, also Susan Kozel is convinced that the arts can act as a catalyst for understanding wider social and cultural uses of digital technology. In the article Spacemaking: virtuality and materiality (1994) she elaborates on her performance in Paul Sermon’s piece Telematic Dreaming (1992). While in 1992 the networked interaction between Kozel, residing in the privacy of a studio, and the audience, in the public gallery, was a rare occasion to experience disembodied communication, contemporary applications like Skype, Second Life, Twitter, or Facebook facilitate these kinds of experiences outside the relatively safety of the art world in a synchronic and non-synchronic way. Despite this, the Sermon piece does not cease to amaze even when the used technology and aimed experience seem to be more familiar. Why is it that Telematic Dreaming continues to mesmerize? How is this related to the contemporary communication applications? Are we able to relocate the affects of Sermon’s installation in our daily communication practices or are the contemporary disembodied practices of a different order? Ubiquitous telephoning, the use of Skype in SL, and avatar-networking as social activity are all daily examples of how we negotiate with our virtual counterparts. In this respect, I would like to question to what extent the duality between the virtual and the actual can be dissolved.
As general method I want to use what Katherine Hayles calls a media specific analysis as comparative media program ‘ which takes materially instantiated characteristics of media and inquires into their (simulated) presence in other media (Roger 2009: 6). In this case, I do not transfer characteristics from one media to another but rather survey the media forms their different environments. This means that I will start with analyzing the most poignant key terms telepresence, embodiment, and the virtual and the actual as crucial concepts for understanding the installation. Accordingly, I will transpose these terms to the environment of the daily life where I will try to provide them with a new interpretation on the level of behavior.
For Hayles media specific analysis especially gained urgency –and visibility— since the text’s appearance, its form, no longer is instantiated in just print but also in digital text, code. This new appearance, the digital form, enables a renewed perspective on the importance and construction of the materiality of the text. Materiality is reconceptualized as the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies, a move that entwines instantiation and signification at the outset. (Hayles 2004: 67) Besides media specific analysis attends the specificity of form and signifier, it also attends the relation between form and citations and imitations in another medium. Accordingly the used vocabulary is extended by means of other, older media: ‘media specific analysis moves from the language of “text” to a more precise vocabulary of screen and page, digital program and analogue interface, code and ink, mutable image and durably inscribed mark, texton and scripton, computer and book’ (Hayles 2004: 69). This new vocabulary seems to be both more precise and richer at the same time since it does refer to media outside the analyzed object as well. In the context of this research, I like to extend the vocabulary of the artistic practices with the vocabulary of the daily, and the other way around. ‘life’ and ‘art’ are in this case considered as media and therefore fit for a comparative medium program.
The structure of this paper is as follows: in the first part I will provide a close reading in form and content of Telematic Dreaming and I provide a theoretical contextualization by using the bodies of thought of –among others— Susan Kozel, Anna Munster, Gilles Deleuze, Matthew Fuller, and Roy Ascott and I will give a survey of the mentioned keywords. In the second part of the paper I will introduce the contemporary communication applications and show accordingly how the meaning of the keywords change within this environment. In the last part of the paper, I will approach the domain of the arts not as a separate universe but rather as a mediator between man and technology. In the conclusion, I will comment on my approach of choice and suggest further research.
Part I Virtualities in Art
Presence has always been a crucial issue in the arts but in the installation Telematic Dreaming by Paul Sermon it is telepresence that is the key effect. What exactly do we mean when using the word telepresence? In Roy Ascott’s Post-Biological glossary, telepresence is defined as follows:
Art has always concerned itself with presence: of gods in religious art, heroes in classical art, the artist in romantic art; of presence itself in abstract art. In telematic art, our telepresence is distributed throughout the Internet. We are both here and there, out-of-body and reembodied, dematerialised and re-configured at on and the same time. (Ascott 1996: 382)
Telepresence is part of a new universe where another relation to the surrounding world is emerging.
Connectivity, immersion, interaction, transformation, and emergence together form, according to Ascott, the five-fold path to ‘telenoia’, the word that is taking over from ‘paranoia’. Roy Ascott, the British artist and theorist, acknowledges in Heavenly Bodies (1993) that the Freudian psychology of today is unfit to deal with the needs and urgencies of telepresence of a telematic society. Its new citizen, the l’homme éclaté – as defined by Paul Virilio— is no longer an individual human presence with an undivided personality in one place, but rather a set of many selves with multiple personalities. ‘The explosion of the one and the connectivity of the many is perhaps the single most important effect of the telematisation of our culture’ (Ascott 1993: 265). This does not mean though, that we are collectively leaving our bodies (out-of-body) but rather indicates that the relation to the mind needs readjustments (out-of-frame): now the mind is no longer framed by the body, it needs to reframe itself. (Ascott 1993). In drawing on McLuhan, the electronic body can be seen as an amplification and extension of the flesh body to which it is intimately entwined. Telematics enable this corporeal body to do things that normally are not possible and thereby providing the mind with new and different experiences. In this perspective, Kozel wonders what these telematic escapades mean after the mind has re-joined the body again: ‘once plunged back into flesh, what has changed’ (Kozel 1994: 101)? When theorists and artists like Myron Krueger claim that virtual technology changes what it means to be human, they do not just refer to the ‘voyage out’ but also to the return and the lasting effect on the human mind. ‘It is here that the political dimension of VR resides’ (Kozel 1994: 101). ‘Response is the medium’-Krueger wrote in 1970 that we should not forget that the purpose of technology is not just to solve problems, but that it also creates concepts and philosophies. He points out that since technology will enter all homes and offices, it will become the core intermediary between mankind and information. This intimate technology needs design and engineering and we must be aware how this, what we made, will influence us.
In his article Responsive Environments (1977) Myron Krueger describes five different video installations in their technical, affective, and interactive elements. The installations, with their central human-machine interaction, were designed to communicate an affirmative vision of technology to the lay public. Krueger feels that this level of education is important because our culture is becoming increasingly defined by these tools and a majority of its population is hostile or ignorant to them. In some of the installations as described by Krueger we can feel the telepresent notion in the relation between the corporeal body and the representation of the body as a line, dot, circle, or sound blip. For example with Maze, the visitor is subtlety invited to enter a visual maze projected on the vertical wall. A dot represents his position and he can move this dot around by moving backwards and foreyards. Yet the further the participant proceeds in the maze, the more obstructions he will encounter. Eventually it will be made impossible for him to enter the center of the maze. The strongest point of this installation is based on the fact that the visitor –amazingly—is identifying with his digital representation which consists of a dot with a cross: he becomes frustrated because entering the center of the maze is made impossible due to the computer program that keeps changing the rules. The inability of the user to finish the maze on the wall causes personal frustration. Another example where the distinction between the corporeal body and its digital representation is even more crucial is in the installation Videoplace (1975). In this piece, a conceptual environment is developed with no physical existence which enables people to see each other from remote locations. In this installation two participants in separate locations can have a common visual experience by interaction though the video-medium. The two remote identical environments have both video recording and projecting equipment. The visitor sees him or herself but also the person in the remote location: the visual effect is that the sole visitor finds himself with several people in the same room. Contact can be made by ‘touching’ or moving. Meanwhile the computer is used to apply several experiments onto the users. Movements are altered and overlapping parts are blocked or replaced. Krueger discovered that psychological sensation in this installation is near to touch. He even believes that the computer can even enhance this sense of touch by altering the graphical images in several –and even somewhat artificial— ways.
In Telematic Dreaming telepresence is established in an unencumbered way, no goggles or headsets are being used. According to Jonathan Steuer, telepresence refers to one’s direct environment, but not to the psychical environment but to one’s sense of being in a mediated environment (Steuer 1993: 5). Presence here is conscious, especially because the spectator needs to perceive two different environments simultaneously: the psychical environment and the represented mediated surrounding. Steuer defines telepresence as the situation where one feels more presence in the mediated environment than in the physical environment. Subsequently the difference between presence and telepresence is that the former refers to a ‘natural’ environmental perception and the latter to mediated perception of an environment. Another crucial aspect of telepresence is the involvement the viewer needs to develop with those elements that construct the virtual environment. This involvement can be realized through different sorts of events like narration, mindful attention, concentration, or social elements. In this reading of telepresence Steuer states that the physical space and the represented space can be at the same location but in the installation Telematic Dreaming part of the projected representation lays outside the realm of the physical space. This visual connection between remote sites is what is usually considered telepresence in an artistic context.
Kozel defines telepresence in relation to other presences: teleabsence (communication of that what is concealed), telepistemology (knowledge at distance), telerobotics (motion at distance). Telepresence broadens the scope because it is not pinned to presence (that what is revealed) or the visual but enables an interplay between presence and absence (that what is concealed) caused by a range of dynamic human and technological impulses and put into play concepts of time and space.
The rise of the Internet influenced tremendously the acceptance of telecommunications: the crowd opened their workplaces and their homes to Internet and emails applications. This way art converged directly with life itself:
This meant that many people had their own personal take on the performativity offered by telematic systems, and artists were doing something that they themselves had tried or had some opinion about: this was art converging directly with life and evoking questions from the banal to the highly theoretical (Kozel 2008:87)
This increased convergence of life and art is complicating the relation between the actual and the virtual in an even more interesting way.
The actual and the virtual
According to Richard Rogers inauguration speech, we are at the end of the virtual. Since Manuel Castells defined the ‘end of cyberspace’ as a placeless place as an outcome of the Yahoo lawsuit in which French Web users were blocked from Nazi memorabilia pages the ‘Web has been grounded’ (Rogers 2009: 4). But what does this actually mean for a small circuit like in the Telematic Dreaming ?
In the set-up of Telematic Dreaming in Amsterdam in 1992 Kozel was located in the light space, away from the audience and the blacked out bed was located in the gallery space. The visitor of the gallery could take place on the bed next to the projected image of Susan Kozel who could see her own body in relation to the visitor’s body on the monitor on the wall. In order to react appropriately she had to keep one eye on her projected body and translate this perspective to the embodied one. It is easy to oppose the two different beings according to the virtual-actual divide. It is tempting, in this case, to relate the actual body to Kozel’s real body and the virtual to her projected being. The problem arises when Kozel’s virtual body starts to cause corporeal reactions and the distinction between the actual and the virtual part of her being starts to blur.
Historically virtual space like the Web are compared with vacation resorts, theme park environments, and holiday events, they are seen as liminal environments, as threshold spaces in between two zones, and as places where limiting social regulations are temporary postponed (Shields 2004). In this case, the definition of the virtual space is twofold: firstly, it depends heavily on the presumption that the virtual is characterized as something in opposition to the daily and secondly the online world is compared with the world of tourism and leisure industry. This way of opposing the virtual to the dailyness (and to level it with the vacation parks) is not doing justice to the intrinsic qualities of the virtual. Especially when we consider the technical innovations and use of the Internet today, we can see that the virtual is no longer opposed to the real world but rather is becoming an essential and interactive component of it. Virtual spaces are less and less ‘betwixt and between’ geographical place but are increasingly coupled to real life locations: Google knows where you are, your cell-phone tells where you are, even you credit-card is attributed with RFID. As we can see in the augmentation and immersion debate within Second Life, even specific ‘usernames’ or alternative identities in online environments are often paired to –of even equal to—real life identities, especially within the younger population (Dresscher 2008). The virtual citizens who are considering SL as an augmentation of the real life are slowly outnumbering the long-time players who see it as a world separate from the real life. For the younger generation it seems that virtual identities are merely a (very controlled) extension of their real life identity instead of a new opportunity to role-play or experiment with new identities. This notion of the virtual as overlapping with liminal rituals such as rites of passage is too romanticized and a new perspective— the perspective of the augmentation—might be in place. Rob Shields argues that ‘the virtual infects the actual as a metaphor which has moved from the realm of digital domains and computer technologies to become an organizing idea for government policies, everyday practices and managerial strategies’(Shields 2003: 14) . This way the virtual shifts the commonsense notion of the real away from the material in the direction of the sphere of virtualities.
On a more abstract level, Gilles Deleuze comes with the same conclusion in his argument that purely actual objects do not exist since every actual is surrounded by a cloud of virtual images who, on their turn, are surrounded by a virtual cosmos (Deleuze 2002). Perception resembles these particles: each actual perception is surrounded by a cloud of virtual images like memories. Virtual images react upon actual objects and accordingly limit the range of the actual. The circles of virtual images correspond to the varying dense layers of the actual object and cause the actual to become virtual as well. The end of the actual object—its virtualization— takes place on the plane of immanence, which includes both the virtual and its actualization simultaneously. Between this virtual object and its actualization is not a clear distinction and it is hard to assign a limit between the two.
The actual is the complement or the product, the object of actualization, which has nothing but the virtual as its object. Actualization belongs to the virtual (…) the actual falls from the plane like a fruit, whilst the actualization relates back to the plane as if to that which turns the object back into a subject. (Deleuze 2002: 149)
It is this mutual inextricability that creates the relation between the actual and the virtual and ties them together by creating each other. According to Patricia Pisters, the Deleuzean virtual and actual are both real but sometimes that what is virtually contains does not become actual. The virtual is in this case seen as dreams, memories, imaginations, or pure qualities, and is only real when they have an effect on us. All actual images are embedded in a mist of virtual images, which react to actual images. According to Pisters, Deleuze’s distinction between the virtual and the actual is their difference in time: the present defines the actual and the past defines the virtual. The present is measured in continuous time and the actual is defined by this passing of the present
Shields’ method for finding the essence of the virtual is to build up a model of what people understand by the virtual. For him the virtual is that ‘which is so in essence’, like something is for example ‘virtually finished’: it is not finished yet, but almost. This definition of the virtual opposes the common real-virtual distinction and Shields proposes a ‘four-part definition’: the virtual, the concrete, the abstract, and the probable. The virtual is ideal but not abstract, real but not actual. It is ideally real, like a memory’ (Shields: 16). In everyday speech we use the word virtual for important and essential parts of reality that are non-tangible, or to signify an absence, an unreality. The term virtual is not just deployed within the realm of the digital, but also as related to effectiveness and success, it can be seen as a space, as places, and it represents values. Shields argues that we are becoming more comfortable with the use of the term virtual since we are depending on our memories of the past in order to construct our identity. Shields does not want to approach the virtual as being reality or not, but rather in relation to the abstract, the probably, and the possible. The virtual is in this sense a ‘real idealization’ (like a memory, dream or intention), the concrete is a ‘actual real’ (the event, the everyday now), the abstract is a possible ideal (concepts), and the probable is and actual possibility (usually expressed mathematically). Typical for Shield’s approach of the virtual is that he moves back and forth from the abstract philosophical and the daily practical. This perspective has clearly influenced his difinitions of the virtual and the real. Basically, he distinguishes the virtual from the unreal (or the abstract) by its real qualities like for example concrete memories of an event. In order to make the relation between the terms more tangible, Shields connects several forms of speech and movement as a concrete set of examples between the different sliding categories surrounding the virtual.
• Virtual ⇔ Concrete déjà vu and the ritual
• Virtual ⇔ Abstract symbols and myths
• Abstract ⇔ Probable Chance and Predictions
• Concrete ⇔ Probable Risk and Faith
• Concrete ⇔ Abstract Miracles and Abstractions
• Virtual ⇔ Probable Premonitions and Foretelling
While modern positivism dismissed the virtual as a non-existing abstraction and instead focused rather on the concrete and the probable, computer generated communication generates a re-newed interpretation of the virtual in which the focus is on the important presences of distant but significant others and in new forms of play and business. New techniques and conventions enable the slippage between the virtual and the actual as widely accepted, yet at the same time we embrace virtual substitutes ‘while nostalgically remembering (i.e. virtualizing) what we might call the real thing’ (Shields 2003: 44).
One of the key concepts that are of influence in Sermon’s piece is embodiment in which the corporeal (embodied) and the virtual (disembodied) body interact and form the essential elements of the interface and medium. The effectiveness of the installation is partly created through absence instead of presence: absence of the corporeal body of the other in relation to the other’s presence. Arguably, theorizing embodiment is achieved best by relating it to its opposite, disembodiment. According to the Apple dictionary, embodiment is ‘a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality, or feeling’ or ‘the representation or expression of something in such a form’ and disembodiment is ‘ separate or free (something) from its concrete form. The latter is exactly the cyber-libertarian’s promise in where the Internet connects people as pure thought, gender-less, race-less, nation-less and sex-less. Yet, recent developments have learned that the digital becomes increasingly related to the embodied body as we can learn when we—for example— log into Google who immediately calculates our geographical location.
For the digital media theorist Anna Munster the digital can be read as an explosion of the Cartesian space where the collective and the personal intersect and the aesthetic regime increasingly becomes based on temporalities instead of spatialities. The Deleuzean shift from the movement-image (traditional cinema) to the time-image (modern cinema) can be seen as an early sign of this loss of a systematical space and has provided analytical ground for the exploration of cyberspace where a ‘dynamic between sequential and nonsequential variation begins to function as a set of temporal coordinates for digital aesthetic production’ (Munster 2006: 173). For Muster virtuality and interactivity were key terms in the late 1980s to mid 1990s within this (cyber)culture of information aesthetics. The virtual seem to make the promise to leave the body behind ‘as minds, data, and wires, joined together in an ecstatic fusion across the infinite matrix of cyberspace’ (Munster 2006: 86). Yet in spite of virtual reality and the body-less, nation-less, and gender-less presence of the cyber-libertarian dreams of the last century the corporeal experience cannot be dissolved in the environment of the virtual—just as we read in Kozel’s experience. For Munster it is crucial that our aesthetic regimes are not just taken place within the temporalities but also are supported by networked societies: the new aesthetic experiences are not developed and perceived in ‘isolation’ but are a direct result from collective and social exchange. Within this exchange the lag plays and important role -socially, ethically, aesthetically, and temporally- reminding us of the difference between the actual and the virtual. This notion of the lag is also present in Ascott’s writings where he interprets his work with the Derridean concept of ‘defferal of interpretation’. He considers telematic art as a site of interaction and negotiation of meaning, as a re-description of reality. It is a participatory process in which the artist, the observer, and the environment – including the global telematic networks – work together to create an interactive and distributed system which is the work of art, instead of a discrete aesthetic object limited and determined by formal parameters. This definition of art as delayed meaning – can be compared to Munster’s concept of aesthetic connectivities where interacting takes place through distributed networks and large groups of—disembodied—people.
Steven Dixon on the other hand, argues that the body cannot be treated as an abstracted, depersonalized, and increasingly dehumanized physical object. To talk about disembodied consciousness is a contradiction in terms since the body is not just a ‘concept’ (Dixon 2007). We should realize that in recent social and performance theory it is maybe not the body itself which is under discussion, but rather the Foucauldian mind, Judith Butler’s inscribed hierarchies of gender, or Katherine Hayles’ humanism and matter. The Cartesian mind-body split lately gained on popularity in Western thought, albeit under disguise in other postmodern discursives. Dixon underlines that although virtual bodies are the new –digital- representations of the actual body, they do not alter their physical referent. He argues that as long minds and bodies are not easily separated, there is no disembodiment. Besides, the mind-body split is generally at complete odds with the practice of artists and performers since their body (psychical skills) and their mind (mental creativity) need to work together in close harmony.
Performance artists explicitly explore and enact their holistic autonomies and interiorities (gendered, spiritual, emotional, and political), not simply their bodily corporeality. If this process takes place within a recorded electronic or digital environment, it is the medium that is virtual, unreal or disembodied, not the human performer within it. (Dixon 2006: 215)
This distinction between the medium and the body is an important one, since the word ‘disembodied’ easily is related to the human body but with this definition, the medium itself is at issue as being ‘disembodied’. A telematic medium is not rendering the corporeal body obsolete but rather provides a fourth dimension that exceeds the possibilities of the physical body: it can map itself onto another body or can make it disappear, as we can experience in Sermon’s piece.
Both Shields and Munster refer to the distinction that is generally made between the fantastic and the actual: Disney World trips are defined as ‘rides’ with an entrance and exit and virtual realities are as well defined as spheres where bodies move around in one sphere while the mind is in another. Munster wants to expose the virtual as something more than a byproduct of digital media alone, and surveys how it can contribute to sensory engagements with digital technologies. For example, the past can be virtualized by three-dimensional software modeling and compositing. This kind of repeating and decontextualization of the past can cause a deliberate reimagining rather than authentication through resemblance. When sheer realism is the goal, the digital fails hopelessly to match up and becomes a poor imitation or becomes easily a too perfect product that erases ‘material and cultural differences that constitute the differential rhythms of temporal experience’ (Munster 2003: 94). The digital should rather be seen as an aesthetic force capable of creating new sensations and affective responses and thereby creating new forms of imagining. Munster is referring to Brian Massumi who has called this activity as ‘felt through’ which means that instead of representing the real, a correlation is established between thinking and affecting. Massumi’s ‘feeling through’ can be understood as the creation of an image being constructed in the viewer’s mind, both by emotional and rational impulses, generated by the digital. Not the exact representation is central but rather the new interpretation and that what it generates, and at the meantime offering possibly new connotations. ‘This way the past, present, and future, the factual, actual, and digital, fold in and out of one another in a sensory mélange that is fascination and unnerving and affects the very seat once thought to be responsible for producing affect: the guts’ (Munster 2004: 95).
According to Munster digital virtuality enlarges the gap between the place where our bodies are needed in order to have experiences (the material world) and the virtual environment by its claim to be able to disconnect consciousness from matter. Yet, the body is that much encumbered by technology that it starts to resemble a joystick: virtual reality seems to underline the body instead of effacing it. The CAVE-project, developed in mid-1990s by MIT technicians is an attempt to overcome this problem. The cumbersome clothing equipment is replaced by slimmed down devices such as glasses and gloves are left as tools to move around in the virtual. The CAVE immersion and similar (artistic) environments actually seem to enhance the body of the user instead of restricting it and mind and body is bridged based on phenomenological terms. In these cases, the material world is augmented instead of replaced and the body is placed back into the virtual picture, as stated by Michael Heim and Char Davies (Munster 2006: 111). In all of these different accounts, the body is put aside, or as an obstacle that need to be overcome by prostheticized technics, or as a supplement to be added back into a technology. For Muster though, the most interesting aspect for embodiment in the virtual reality environment are the lines of connection and relation between the different spheres. These lines intercross the corporeal user, his outfit, the exterior, the interface devices, and the representation of the 3D surrounding. According to Munster, these lines suggest a criss-crossed complexity, rather than the predesignated nature, of virtuality. They connect between universes of reference by overriding the distinction between spheres such as the material and the immaterial, the real and the virtual, the corporeal and the technological and make it possible to see the way that bodies and technology operate conjointly. When relating this notion of lines intercrossing between spheres to Telematic Dreaming, most obvious is the lack of distinction between the different spheres. Since the user is not encumbered by suits or gloves the connection between the points takes place on a gliding scale. Yet, the criss-crossed complexity is still present and even enhanced since the spheres are less distinctive: the point where one leaves the own corporeality of the own space and enters the one of the other is not just based on physicalities but also on mental borders. For Kozel Telematic Dreaming shows that basic human qualities like trust, vulnerability, pain, and embodiment are not lost when people relate through technologies but that we just need new frameworks to analyze and understand them. In the installation Kozel’s two bodies, body one for the corporeal body and body two for the disembodied projected body, have at different times different relations to each other. Sometimes the body one reacts appropriately in correspondence with body two, and sometimes, for example in the case of extreme violence, body one becomes the external observer of body two. This shows that the level of ‘disembodiment’ is not only based on physical or material constructions and objective visual status but also depends on particular mindsets influenced by several different circumstances. This is exemplified in Kozel’s case where the relation between body one and two is never static but always in transit and depending on the circumstances.
Part II Virtualities in life
Contemporary communication devices.
Modern communication tools can host the same kind of affects, effects, and characteristics as being addressed by Sermon in his installation. How can we redefine these tools and applications through a re-examination of the same terms like telepresence, virtuality, and embodiment?
Telematic Dreaming is still relevant today because it underlines the strong dichotomy between distance and intimacy. On the one side, the intimacy shared on Sermon’s bed with Kozel is partly enabled by the fact that she is not a real person but just a projection: Arguably not many people would agree on participating in the performance when it was not her projection they had to join, but her corporeal body. At the same time, this absence of the complete set of senses (there is no sound, no touch, no three-dimensional image, no body-warmth) seems to enhance the intensity and subtlety of those senses left. Kozel explains how intimacy and emotion slowly developed during the interaction:
Movement usually began in a hesitant way with hand contact taking on excessive importance. The impact of slow and small movement became enormous…when the movement progressed from these early stages to a sort of full body choreography the piece became an emotional investment which shocked and sometimes disturbed people…(Kozel 1994)
In other words, visitors—and even Kozel— were surprised by the intensity of the interaction. Yet, the effect of telepresence is not only to be found in the field of the arts but modern communication appliances like Skype, Twitter, and mobile phones can facilitate as well certain forms of disembodied communication that can be called (mentally) immersive and affective. I think that the questions as being raised by Sermon’s installation are still relevant for today’s communication tools. Where are you when you are on the phone for hours? Why can lovers stare into each other’s faces/ typed words on Skype without speaking longer than in real life? Why do teen-agers fall asleep with their mobile phones open so they hear each other breath? The answer to these questions and to the enigma of the strength of telepresence in general might be found in the limitation of sensory impulses.
Marshall McLuhan addresses this issue with his theory about the cool and the hot medium (McLuhan 1964). His medium specific theory about how media engage the senses is based on the medium’s intrinsic aesthetic qualities like depth and resolution. The less information a medium provides (low in definition) the more it engages the senses (high in participation). One could also say, the more information is withheld, the more imagination and involvement is generated. ‘Maybe this is why lovers mumble so much’ as McLuhan states. Our regular communication media do ‘mumble’ too, they withhold information: a mobile phone just gives the (distorted) sound of a voice in just one ear. When simultaneously walking and telephoning chances are that the surroundings are completely overlooked: the ‘flaneur’ has left the premises for the ‘third space’, there where he meets his disembodiment conversational partner while leaving his corporeal body behind. The low definition-qualities the phone offers, force our ‘flaneur’ to concentrate and simultaneously being present in both spheres is hard to do.
The free video-chat application Skype can cause a similar effect. As being implemented in the virtual world Second Life it is used in two different ways. It is used as Voice, enabling citizens to talk to each other and it is used as text-communication tool next to the in-world instant message (IM) tool ,which is frequently ‘laggy’ and can suffers serious delays. Interestingly enough, no matter how pervasive and vivid Second Life’s graphical world may be, the more direct way of communication with Skype is for some users more tempting. Conversations that start overlooking a seaside-terrace can end up in no time with emoticons in the multi-channel Skype application with its quicker connection to the Internet and file-sharing opportunities. In this case, real-time speed is more important than aesthetic representational qualities. One could say that in this case the virtual is shifting into the direction of the real. On the other hand, the majority of Second Life users neglects Voice which points towards an attempt to maintain the libertarian sense of cyberspace where sex, age, race, etc. is undefined. The voice of someone’s voice would fill in too much and the immersion, involvement, could be broken.
This seems to be related to the absence of sound in Telematic Dreaming which is called by Sermon ‘Silent Movie’:
Audio contact is never used in “Telematic Dreaming”. The reason being, as soon as you let the users communicate by speech they will resort to that means of communication alone – as speech is a dominant form of communication between complete strangers. Without speech the two users have to discover new ways in which they can interact. Communication that is akin to the melodrama of the early silent movie. (Sermon 1992)
Although silent movies were often not silent at all but pretty much filled in with a dramatized, narrative music score, Sermon makes a point here that seems related to the the McLuhanesque hotness of low resolution information. Another variety of this phenomenon is ubiquitous telephoning where teenagers like to listen to each other’s breath before they fall asleep by leaving their phones on besides their pillows. This resembles the habit in Second Life where, to enhance the feeling of proximity, users put on Voice not for talking but merely to enhance the feeling of each other’s presence. As we can see, the way we juggle our senses by closing them off and on, is partly invoked by technological restrictions, but also based on deliberate choices and strategies in order to control the level of information needed for the maximum effect. Different layers of ‘reality’ are striving for the foreground, and it is up to the user, how to arrange the preferences of the several software programs, hardware, and applications in order to control which one should be more ‘virtual’ than the other.
Twitter is the latest—rapidly expending—communication device that has changed our relations to each other and the Internet severely. It is a free social networking and micro-blogging service where users can send and read other users’ updates known as tweets. Tweets are short text-messages, no more than 140 characters long and by subscribing to someone’s profile-page you receive every update. At the same time, you can block users from following you and delivery can be restricted. Tweets are received via the twitter website, SMS, or external applications and is especially fit for the rapidly expanding mobile Internet. One of the biggest differences between Twitter and other netbased communication systems is that although it is not ‘private’ like Skype, the general form of communication is extremely friendly. On Twitter people are nice, they treat each other with respect while at the rest of the Internet like blogs and fora flaming and hate mails seem to be custom behavior. The reason for this is the
less –anonymous nature of Twitter which is not caused by the need to identify but because users need to establish personal relationships (van Jole, 2009). Anonymous postings on public websites like on the old Internet are not possible, messages are only read by people who choose to become your ‘follower’ and those followers are visible to everyone. According to van Jole (5.177 followers) personalized use, together with the possibility to block other users are the reasons that the power-relations within Twitter are finally stabilized. Besides, the relation between the real world and the online world has changed in the sense that words and deeds came closer together. Van Jole gives the example how Barack Obama achieved to organize and mobilize eight million volunteers. He is the first politician who effectively bridged the virtual and the real world with a stunning result: the first black president of the United States. The way Kennedy became the first ‘television-president’ Obama became the first ‘Internet-president’. However, van Jole does wonder to what extent the world is changing due to these social techniques or that these techniques just react on a changing world. For the American elections at least, social networks have proven to be the catalyst for political change and the stabilizing of relations on the Internet makes the digital world less distant and more real.
Telepresence, the actual and the virtual, embodiment
How can we elaborate on these key terms in the light of contemporary developments as discussed above? Telepresence as defined by Ascott, refers to distributed presence where we are both ‘here’ and ‘there’ at the same time, de-materialized and re-configured. According to Kozel and Krueger, an important aspect of telepresence is the re-uniting of body and mind after the latter’s trip to places where the body could not go: telepresence is not only about the ‘voyage out’ but also about the ‘voyage back in’. Virtual technologies change what it means to be human and therefore it is important to pay attention to what it does to us and how we can influence them.
Maybe one of the first explicit telepresence devices in the daily environment is the telephone. While being on the phone, one could say the user is in a ‘third’ space, neither here nor there, a non-place. This notion has been extended with the invention of Skype. This application enabled us not only to talk to each other through voice accompanied by a video image but also through texting. Important aspect here is that the use of Skype is free. Where the telephone used to be a device only used in case of concrete information exchange, Skype connections can stay on for hours. This makes that its use is very different. Friends or colleagues working on different places can stay in-touch constantly while remaining seated on there own desks minding their own business. This constant ‘presentness’ of the other takes place somewhere in this ‘third’ space and the users can switch back and forth from the ‘presentness’ of the other. Communication through Skype is more intense probably due to this constant ‘presentness’. This can cause strong bonding between users of long distances. It is very well possible to meet new friends on Skype (and even become personal and intimate) without ever meeting in the real world. The telepresence aspect enhances the feeling of proximity and shrinks the world to imaginable sizes. Comparable situations can be traced in the environment of social network sites like Facebook or MySpace where globally dispersed people keep in touch even when they never meet. An interesting argument for deleting a Facebook account came up in my research: a female user did not want to know anymore what everyone was doing because it ruined the surprise when finally meeting after a long period of absence. Skype and social network sites are ways of keeping our friends and loved ones closer, in a place that can be recognized as McLuhan’s global village. This user preferred to juggle her senses some more, and stopped making use of certain technologies by refusing the offered input because she did not want to spoil any surprises at a later point in time. Smart girl.
A logical consequence of this trend of being always connected is that there is a shift in the relation between the actual and the virtual. Where first the virtual—the Internet, the online world, cyberspace—was distinguished from the real, now the real and the virtual are almost filling in for each other. This point of change where the Internet becomes an augmentation of the real life instead of external to it is also exemplified in preliminary research (Dresscher 2008). In my paper A Dramatic Perspective on the Virtual World Second Life: Or How to Resolve the Immersion vs. Augmentation Debate I survey the expectations and behavior attributed to avatars in Second Life. In 2006, a discussion was sparked that revolved around the immersion vs. augmentation debate that is taking place in Second Life and on related blogs. Immersionists, the game’s early users, see Second Life as a separate world, whereas augmentists perceive it as an extension of real life. In this paper, I analyze two related models of categorization and investigate how the terms of the debate can be interpreted in relation to the different levels of Second Life. I do this by applying perspectives borrowed from artistic, cultural, and social schools of thought. In this manner, I provide a deeper insight into the nature of Second Life and the motivation of its users, and show the relation between the virtual and the real world. As is proven in this research the trend of newer users of Second Life who increasingly consider the place as an augmentation can be seen in the light of bigger change on the level of conceptualizing the virtual and the actual. Just as being exemplified by Obama’s success in the Twitter-environment, we are not anonymous anymore, and without exposing our real selves we have less to engage with.
The notion of the actual as conceptualized by Deleuze is also interesting when applied on social network sites and virtual worlds. He argues that all actual images are surrounded by a cloud of virtual images and that these are on there turn surrounded by a ‘galaxy’ of virtualities. Profiles on social network sites can be regarded as virtual identities, additional to actual, daily identities. However, they are not isolated bur rather grounded in the actual in two ways. On the one hand, they are created by dreams, imaginations, memories, or frustrations existing in the real world and in that sense the virtual identity is complementary to the actual identity. On the other hand, the virtual identity has real impact on the real identity and therefore becomes actualized though it: ‘the actualization belongs to the virtual’, as Deleuze put it.
In the case of Telematic Dreaming one could say that its strength comes from this same relation between the actual and the virtual. Because the virtual is feeding back in to the real and the other way around the ‘played’ or ‘virtual’ moves do create real affects or emotions. In Kozel’s text we can recognize a thin border between the times she keeps restricting herself and at times when she surrenders to this feelings of play when she ‘luxuriated in the physical intimacy and sheer decadence of it all’ (Kozel 1994: 97). The following emotional passage shows how related Kozel must have felt at times when allowing herself to become immersed in the interaction:
An Unlikely character dressed in blue and green, wearing philosopher’s glasses, calmly stroked my tight, brushed delicately over my hips and up my torso. He remained partly detached, or at least quizzical, and his movements were languid but not overtly sexual. I felt little electric shocks pass through my body as I accepted the caresses. (Kozel 1994:97)
Virtual touches by a philosopher dressed in blue and green causing real physical reactions. Yet, these caresses only took place because of their virtuality because Kozel probably would not have accepted them in a material environment in such an open and vulnerable way. The distance the virtual creates seems to open up the possibility to be more open, sensitive and available for the experiences. This effect explains as well the intensity of telephone sex and ‘textual intercourse’ in which participants do not actually see or touch each other and therefore need to rely on their imagination. This ‘high participation on cool information’ can create strong feelings of affection, which can cause for example complications in virtual worlds on the level of real life relationships . Feelings and emotions that are at first not taken seriously, because they are subscribed to a game-environment and therefore labeled not “real” can eventually turn out to be deeper and more serious than was calculated. For Kozel the virtual sex was based on ‘energy, intimacy, and rhythm of lovemaking: a tender beginning, playfully building up, making shapes with our bodies, improvising…’(Kozel 1994: 98) which was not a substitute for real sex bur rather a mimetic exercise on its own, with strong emotional qualities. She refers here effectively to McLuhan’s notion of technology being the extension of our senses since it is difficult to sustain a clear distinction between real and virtual when the direct technological experience is taken into account. Kozel continues by letting us know that she met her virtual lover a few times but that their conversation was stilted and they both preferred the virtual mode of interaction since these meetings seemed to be more meaningful.
In correspondence to Massumi’s definition of the digital experience as rather being ‘felt through’ instead of ‘representing the real’, also the disembodiment in digital virtual environments like networked societies or virtual worlds can be considered as a relation being established between affecting and thinking, ratio and emotions. Realism is not always an important factor for a feeling of embodiment: a phantasy character can cause just as much feeling of ‘self’ as a realistic human-like avatar. To what extent someone feels ‘embodied’ by his or her on-line avatar is depending on many things but the relation is never static. Circumstances like social contacts (talking to a nice person or not), real life events (family at the background, phone ringing), investments (the hours spend working on and with the avatar), personal situation (relax, busy, bored) are all of influence on the level of embodiment. On the blog of Wagner James Au is a review about a meeting he had with Tasrill Sieyes (Au 2008). He displayed a number of fantasy avatars: a different one for every mood. His avatars are built like sculptures and consist of unusual materials and combinations. A furry purple fox with octopus tentacles is the basic avatar and seems the most “normal”. Others are constructed from all kinds of materials, such as shiny, round, chrome surfaces or black, barbed, spiky lines. He tells Au that he likes to be abstract because then he does not have to worry about preconceived notions of gender, race, or anything other than the other person’s view on abstract art. “I can just be pure intellect”, he says. Tasrill considers the abstraction of his representations as an advantage and it enhances his feeling of embodiment since he can leave out non-relevant elements like gender or race. Past, present, future, the factual, actual, and digital are folded in and out and recreate his second body, this digitized online avatar, which represents something that probably feels more real than his first body. At the same time, this kind of embodiment far parted from Munster’s ‘joystick definition’ of the virtual reality disembodied body but has rather relationships with a mental form of immersion based on a subtle interplay of imaginations, feelings, and expectations.
One of Munster’s concepts concerning the real and the virtual is based on intercrossing lines in between the spheres. This intercrossing between the virtual and the actual, the real and the unreal, the imagined and the present is also visible in a different way within the context of the project book Dearest Tinkebell made by Katinka Simonse and Coralie Vogelaar. Dearest Tinkebell is a collection of hate mail that TINKEBELL has received between 2004 and 2008 in reaction to the project My Dearest Cat, Pinkeltje (2004), in which TINKELBELL made a bag out of her own cat. Next to the original hate mail Simonse and Vogelaar also published other personal information like blog-adresses, photos, profiles, and addresses of the sender. In the case of this work, the question can be put to what extent the virtual and the actual are changing under influence of the different media and circumstances. Is the book making their hate mail ‘inappropriate’ or more real? Where does this position art in relation to representation and virtuality? The virtual and the actual, the real and the unreal, the imagined and the present are in this case not interrelated through virtual reality suits and machines but through media beyond the level of material instantiations. Internet sites, broadcasting programs, online interviews, and art reviews all work together to link representation online and the daily real as an intermediary event.
Part III Conclusion
Technological changes generate new attitudes towards data and information: new tools, new means of production and new subjects emerge within society and in artistic environments (Manovich, Hayles). Where traditionally art might seem to be a safe haven for representation where could be experimented with concepts, worldviews, emotions, and experiences, the rise of modern forms of art that make use of new media such as photography, video, telecommunication devices, and performances alter the relation between the arts and society. Especially the development of cheap telecommunication tools and quick broadband Internet connections has a striking influence and the relation between the artist, audience, and work of art (Ascott, Shanken, Krueger). A higher level of immersion, telepresence, involvement of the spectator, and a shared use of tools between art and society is changing their relation profoundly. Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades might be marked as the starting point of this trend where art and non-art are harder to distinguish and ‘the object’ as art piece has lost its central role. The abstract and profound conceptualization of philosophers and theorists concerning virtuality can be grounded when applied to the world of contemporary art and daily life. This practical research into the virtual is relevant because of its impact on the broader scheme of life, as being summed up by Rob Shields:
- There is a certain cultural impact of computerization as new digital virtuality;
- The virtual becomes increasingly significant in leisure time, family life and in video-gaming subcultures;
- Firms and organizations start to virtualize and this influences the employer’s experiences and roles in the virtual workplace;
- Virtual social relationships at a distance over the Internet change moralities and ethics;
- There are significant implications for the everyday off-line life in general and in relation to digital divide in specific.
Virtuality, in its designs and affects, is becoming a bigger part of our daily reality and we need to understand its influences and consequences in order to react appropriately.
Relation art and life
Historically, art formed the (transforming) mirror of society, and today, it still does. There is just one major difference and this is that the tools we are working with in our daily occupations and their philosophical impacts are the same as used in the environment of the arts. This means that we can have confusingly real experiences in relation to an art piece, or even that art can teach us what the implications are when using these tools on the work floor of in the privacy of the home. For example, a project like Dearest Tinkebell is in fact achieving two things. On the one hand the book is the ‘mirror’ of society since it bounced the hate mail back into the faces of the senders. On the other hand you can say that the book is creating a different attitude towards the virtual. It is crossing a line, the line of: you do not publish in print what is published on line without permission. This rule was a virtual rule, not written down but just lived through by most of us, most of the time. However, since TINKEBELL and Vogelaar published their book, they ‘de-anonymized’ the hate mail and thereby dissolved the anonymity of the on-line virtual. The real is approaching the virtual (or the other way around?) one step in a time.
In this paper, I have tried to show that we can use new media art as catalyst for future communication issues in society. What does this tell us about the function of new media art? Are these art-works the dress rehearsals for the future, as articulated by Jack Burnham? Are the effects of Sermon’s installation incorporated in our daily communication practices and are we getting used to this, or is our dis-embodiment of a different order? Ubiquitous telephoning, skyping in SL, avatar-networking as social activity are all examples of how we negotiate with our virtual counterparts. In this respect, I would like to question to what extent the duality between the virtual and the actual can be dissolved. Where in Second Life the augmentists (who see Second Life as an extension of life) are taking over from the immersionists (who see it as a separate sphere), in real life the difference between the real and the virtual is also shifting. The two are not just influencing each other but taking over as well. The distinction between the real and the virtual is perishing, and the proof of this relies in the collision of the virtual and the real, I assume. I am not sure what this means for our ‘third space’ experience when calling with China, or interacting with a stranger on the internet, even when we know with whom we call, or with whom we interact on what location. Even when our bodies and minds are in different places (no matter localized or not), together they are ‘building’ a new reality on a screen, or with an interface, but at least a place not visible.
As stated by Edward Shanken in his interview with Annet Dekker of the Virtual Platform, ‘it is an illusion to imagine that art exists autonomously. Art is inextricably bound up and related to all other forms of cultural production and intercourse – economics, Politics, religion, and so on’ (Shanken 2009). This notion is taken further with the observation that cybernetics in the 1940s gives a deeper sense of how conceptual convergences occur across various disciplines will impact cultural and social development in the future. This means that not only art impacts the world on many levels but also that it can play a role in the prediction of its effects. Art is always becoming, it is not fixed and always in discourse with cultural production. Art should be granted the freedom to experiment without the restrictions that apply to other forms of cultural production- to be able to become the test-case for the future. I think that this might be a more important function for art than is mostly take credit for. In many cases, art can be used as exercises for ‘the real thing’. The way embodiment within Telematic Dreaming is conceptualized can give us insight about the way we use our telecommunication machines today. Telematic Dreaming shows the characteristics of telepresence qualities of intimacy and distance. Being physically present at one location and emotionally or mentally in another place/space is something that relates to the way our society is functioning today. We are not always aware of the consequences and possibilities of these distant relations on the professional and personal level. Telematic Dreaming together with Susan Kozel’s report of her experiences, gives us a specific insight in telematic communication systems and shows us the relativity of the virtual/real opposition. It sheds a light on the possibilities of communication in a networked society and shows that the McLuhanesque extensions of man are not just theory but can be practically ‘felt through’ in the Massumi-way. It makes comprehensible why people can become so immersed in virtual worlds and on-line communities and shows that our disembodied presence can be just as strong as our embodied being. Virtuality can enhance actuality in the sense that being closed off from some of the senses, the senses left, are widely open and therefore making us extremely vulnerable for the smallest touch or change.
However, art is more than just l’art pour l’art, and it enables us to play, experiment, and reflect on things that possibly make us more aware of changes and possibilities. The distinction between the virtual and the real is no longer of core interest. The virtual exists by virtue of the real and the other way around, and it seems more fruitful to find new ways of theorizing it in relation to each other than to demarcate their distinction. In this perspective, Telematic Embrace can be considered an intellectual play-ground for the here and now and for the future, where our telematic virtual contacts become increasingly real.
My choice of key terms (the actual and the virtual, embodiment, and telepresence) is developed while working and is based on their relevancy in relation to the chosen topics. Arguably, the list could have been extended with terms like affect, interface, and interactivity to create a broader understanding of the consequences of the subject. On the other hand, I also could have chosen to diminish the list and focused on telepresence as umbrella term and used more works to explain its characteristics. The reason for the choice of Telematic Dreaming as central case in relation to this small selection of key-terms is effective since it gave a rich scale of opportunities to survey the concrete consequences of the philosophical abstractions we experience in our increasingly technological world.
Since new media art and daily life increasingly share toolsets like networked environments, telematic devices, and computation, the relation between the both spheres is in transit and new forms of research –that address both environments simultaneously— are in place. New media art is not the place where just artistic issues are being settled but is rather a place where we can find an enhanced version of our daily practices. It can give insight and can prepare, for those things to come.
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